Lady bags bling, blossoms into queen
Alicia Keys’ third studio album is an exercise in tightening the screws. The accomplished 27-year-old has always made a delicate exercise of placating the hip-hop and R&B communities, but her obvious love for soul and classical music sometimes made it seem as if her heart wasn’t really in it. As I Am finds her comfortably dedicating most of her energy to the latter genres; gone is the endearingly thuggish (but slightly excessive) gangsta posturing, and Keys has turned up the emphasis on her songwriting and vocal performances. “No One,” the album’s first single, showcases a new depth and width to the tone of her voice, which seems to get closer to that of Aretha Franklin with each album. “The Thing About Love” is a fine ballad co-written and produced with Linda Perry (Pink, Christina Aguilera) while ‘Teenage Love Affair’ is a brilliant Jackson 5-esque foot stomper, the kind of thing only Keys could get away with these days: a breezy, spot-on recollection of a woman looking back on a girlhood left behind.